MANILA Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday he needed six more months for his war on drugs, saying he only realised how bad the country's narcotics problem was after taking office over two months ago.
Duterte, a former crime-busting mayor of the southern city of Davao, won the presidency in May promising to suppress crime and wipe out drugs and drug dealers in three to six months.
More than 3,500 people - or about 47 per day - have been killed in the past 10 weeks in connection with the illegal drugs trade, nearly two thirds by unknown assailants and the rest in legitimate police operations, according to local police.
Though popular at home, Duterte's sometimes violent anti-drug rhetoric and the thousands of killings have alarmed rights groups and sparked the concern of the United States, a former colonial power and close ally, and the United Nations.
Duterte has dismissed criticism of his war on drugs, including allegations made by rights groups at home and abroad of extrajudicial killings.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week said the U.N. should look into the drugs war and be allowed to interview witnesses.
The biggest problem is posed by the distribution and use of locally made methamphetamine, known as 'shabu'.
"I did not realise how severe and how serious the problem of drug menace in this republic was until I became president," Duterte said in a media briefing in Davao.
He said there were "hundreds of thousands of people already in the drug business" now, some of them working in government.
"We would need time to put everything in order. Give me a little extension, maybe of another six months," he said.
Early this month Duterte said "plenty will be killed until the last pusher is out of the streets."
But on Sunday he said "even if I wanted to, I cannot kill them all because the last report would be this thick," referring to a new, not yet published list of mostly public officials linked to illegal drug trade.
In two previous lists, Duterte identified military and police officials, lawmakers and judges with alleged connections to the drug trade.
The new list includes more elected government officials such as village chiefs or "barangay captains", Duterte said. He did not say when the names would be made public but that they had been "verified".
He also said he supported calls to postpone the barangay elections, to be held in October, because drug money could be used to ensure victory of those who connive with drug dealers.
"From the looks of it, it's the government already doing the operation (of illegal drugs). They (the foreign critics) just don't realize it because it's not their country," he said.
(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)